The fashion industry has a long standing infatuation with nudity. It’s celebrated, it’s critiqued, it’s gawked at. It’s used to shock, to express and it’s used to sell. But with our movement toward a more liberal way of life, is it becoming an expectation that models pose topless or even nude to make it in the industry?
Years ago, nudity was widely used as a sales tactic in the industry, we’d see naked models everywhere to combat the prudish nature of dressing and appeal to a newly free and rebellious market. It often still is used to sell through shock factor but is also currently used to promote healthy body image and inclusivity of women in the industry that don’t have the ‘typical’ model body.
Millennial stars like Emily Ratajkowski have made names for themselves with their tendency to show off their body. There’s no doubt their powerful statements of self-love and ownership over their bodies is inspiring. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being nude if you want to be and showing nipples shouldn’t be considered passé. So why did it feel so creepy to see Em dancing around topless next to Robin Thicke in the blurred lines videos?
Kate Moss came out a while ago about a nervous breakdown she suffered as a teen after being made to pose topless. Not long after, Heidi Klum expressed her own concerns about the way that young models are being pushed into posing topless at shoots that are promised to be career defining moments by pushing Photographers and Creative Directors. Klum warned young models not to be caught up in the pressure to be a success and to be stronger about saying no to nudity if it makes them feel uncomfortable.
It’s interesting advice coming from someone who arguably shot to global success with the help of of her 1988 Sports Illustrated cover. Moss herself really began to see success after her topless Calvin Klein campaign. It highlights the example that’s been set for young models that ditching your clothes can make you a star.
Photographers are often at the epicentre of the part of fashion culture that suggests models need to pose nude to be successful. Terry Richardson is a particularly infamous and cringe worthy example. He’s known for his suggestive and overtly sexual campaigns but has also faced a heap of backlash and even legal suits over his treatment of models and the pressure he puts on them to pose nude. During an interview with Hint Magazine, Richardson shared, “Like I’ve always said, it’s not who you know, it’s who you blow. I don’t have a hole in my jeans for nothing.” I mean, A – gross and B – if this is coming from a widely successful and influential photographer, what hope have young models got trying to make it to the top via the more modest route?
The other part of the argument is the culture that’s created through fans on social media. With the ability to comment, like and save photo’s, fans are quick to use these tools to judge risqué images and there doesn’t seem to be much separating those that get branded as hero’s for showing off their body and those being called vulgar. Selfies that show a little skin get significantly more likes than those without. AMFAM’s Instagram proves that a lot of the time. And whilst we might be posting semi-nude pics as a celebration of the female body, you can’t deny that it promotes the idea that a model will gain more followers and therefore success if she bares her butt or boobs.
In writing this, I’m certainly not forgetting about the hordes of models that make it to the top without posing nude and those that happily do it without compromising their morals. But I do think that it’s up to all of us to read just the idea of having to be nude to be successful.
Posing topless really should be about confidence and expression. It shouldn’t be seen as the actions of a vulnerable model trying to create a career for herself.